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Patricia Highsmith, one of the great writers of 20th Century American fiction, had a life as darkly compelling  as that of her favorite "hero-criminal," talented Tom Ripley. In this revolutionary biography, Joan Schenkar paints a riveting portrait, from Highsmith''s birth in Texas to Hitchcock''s  filming of her first novel, Strangers On a Train, to her long, strange, self-exile in Europe. We see her as a secret writer for the comics, a brilliant creator of disturbing fictions, and erotic predator with dozens of women (and a few good men) on her love list. The Talented Miss Highsmith is the first literary biography with access to Highsmith''s whole story: her closest friends, her oeuvre, her archives. It''s a compulsive page-turner unlike any other, a book worthy of Highsmith herself.

From Publishers Weekly

Author and playwright Schenkar ( Truly Wilde) presents a compelling portrait of suspense novelist Patricia Highsmith (1921–1995), whose own life was often as twisted as that of her antihero Tom Ripley. Dispensing with the traditional chronological narrative, Schenkar divides her study into themed sections, which crisscross and mirror each other, embodying the themes of doubling and alter egos in Highsmith''s work and life. From her early years in Texas through her time soaking up Manhattan''s literary life in the ''40s to her self-exile in Europe, Highsmith kept diaries in which she meticulously detailed everything from her myriad female lovers to plot ideas. Pessimistic, alcoholic and chronically unhappy, Highsmith created some of the most chilling tales of psychological suspense and betrayal, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and its sequels, and Strangers on a Train. Schenkar''s research is impeccable, and she makes excellent use of the voluminous Highsmith archives in Switzerland and interviews with Highsmith''s friends, ex-lovers and literary contemporaries. Perversion, Highsmith once said, interests me most and is my guiding darkness, and Schenkar illuminates how her demons played out on the page and in real life. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Highsmith is best known for Strangers on a Train (1950) and her Ripley series, which begins with The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955). Schenkar’s fascinating biography portrays Highsmith as driven by obsessions, especially her love-hate relationship with her mother, and a yin-yang ambivalence that became a central main theme in her writings, which also evinced the fast-moving action she developed while writing comic books in her twenties. The Highsmith Country she created was filled with “the constant shifting of identities,” both inward and outward, “that created the consistency, the fierce peculiarity, the weird, graveled originality of her work.” The author of a pseudonymous landmark lesbian novel The Price of Salt (1951), Highsmith was a femme fatale whose same-sex affairs spanned the Atlantic Ocean, a series of sudden, wild passions, another signature theme in her fiction. The catalyst for Schenkar’s exhaustive, compelling work, which boasts copious end notes, maps, charts, diagrams, bibliography, and chronology, was the recent unearthing of 8,000 pages of Highsmith’s secret journals. The result is an essential scholarly, lesbian, and literary biography. --Whitney Scott

Review

Praise for The Talented Miss Highsmith:

A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

A 2010 Lambda Literary Award Winner

A 2009 Edgar Award Nominee

A 2009 Agatha Award Nominee

A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week

"Schenkar has a wonderfully bold approach: not worrying about a linear chronology (although this is meticulously supplied in the appendices), but choosing instead to follow the emotional water course of Highsmith’s life, allowing her subject to find her own level — to be tidal, sullen, to flow without check, so that events in one decade naturally make an imaginative tributary into turbulence before and after. Schenkar’s writing is witty, sharp and light-handed, a considerable achievement given the immense detail of this biography. Highsmith was a detail junkie. Schenkar’s nonlinear organizing method was a brilliant idea to save herself — and the reader — from data overload. This is a biography of clarity and style. A model of its kind." --Jeanette Winterson, The New York Times Book Review; cover review

"This is no ordinary biography...[Ms. Schenkar] writes with great authority and perverse affection...''The Talented Miss Highsmith'' breaks much ground in connecting Highsmith’s diabolical tales with the real women who prompted her strongest passions ....In addition to its impressive sweep, this biography also values minutiae. An exacting inventory of the contents of Highsmith’s office captures every mundane object, right down to the goat’s bell and the Wite-Out pencil. Highsmith loved details like that. And Ms. Schenkar shows an uncannily keen grasp of Highsmith’s spirit." --Janet Maslin, The New York Times

" Throughout nearly 700 pages of lustrous text, Schenkar''s prose is as supple and shapely as Highsmith''s was flat and functional. "The Talented Miss Highsmith" is both dazzling and definitive ... Its scope and scholarship are unassailable, and its vigor indefatigable. t''s a volume as original as its contemptible, miserable, irresistible subject." --Daniel Mallory, Los Angeles Times

"Ms. Schenkar provides a vivid, disturbing portrait of a writer whose work—thanks to some virtuosic movie-making—is known more as source material than as literary art in its own right... It is hard to imagine a more thoroughly fact-filled or energetic biography than "The Talented Miss Highsmith" or one more determined to examine the deepest recesses of its complicated subject." --Alexander Theroux, The Wall Street Journal

"The end result is a biography that captures the writer in all her sullen, sinister, ambivalent glory. Grade: A" --Entertainment Weekly

"What most impresses me with Schenkar''s approach is its boldness: she casts aside chronology to get at the themes of her heroine''s character, and she conjures those themes by unabashedly connecting the events of Highsmith''s life to her work. So we get marvellous formulations like this: ''Pat thought about love the way she thought about murder: as an emotional urgency between two people, one of whom dies in the act.'' Much of Highsmith''s work remains little known by the general reading public, and the details of her fascinating life obscure, Schenkar''s book should serve as a corrective. We plan on delving into some Highsmith books we haven''t read (I''ve just begun "The Price of Salt" and Jon is tackling Ripley), and we hope you''ll approach this month''s pick in a similar way—as an invitation to learning more about the work of, as Schenkar puts it, ''Her High Darkness, Patricia Highsmith: author of some of the twentieth century''s most dangerous fictions.''" --Macy Halford, The New Yorker Online Book Club: Book of the Month

"Schenkar’s fascinating biography portrays Highsmith as driven by obsessions, especially her love-hate relationship with her mother, and a yin-yang ambivalence that became a central main theme in her writings ... The catalyst for Schenkar’s exhaustive, compelling work, which boasts copious end notes, maps, charts, diagrams, bibliography, and chronology, was the recent unearthing of 8,000 pages of Highsmith’s secret journals. The result is an essential, scholarly, lesbian, and literary biography." --Booklist 

"A comprehensive, nuanced evaluation of Highsmith Country." --Kirkus Reviews

"VERDICT: An imaginative, definitive Highsmith biography, great for literature students, Highsmith fans, and mystery readers." --Library Journal

"Joan Schenkar is the first writer to grapple with Patricia Highsmith on every level of her being, from her bizarre personal life to her incredibly prolific writing life. It’s hard to avoid superlatives when describing Schenkar’s biography, but there doesn’t seem to be any other way to go about it."--Deirdre Bair, winner of the National Book Award for Samuel Beckett: a Biography

“This is an epic biography - vivid with Joan Schenkar''s concern for her subject - the mercurial, gifted, fascinating mystery novelist Patricia Highsmith. Schenkar is an inexhaustible researcher and meticulous cultural historian, especially in the hidden pan-sexual world of literary New York of the 40s and 50s. She has a remarkable ability to evoke landscapes, relationships and, above all, a myriad of personal details from the fountain pen Highsmith used to the amount of alcohol she drank to the women she loved (and lost) all the while telling us how Highsmith concocted masterpieces like Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. This is a big book, an awesome achievement.”--Patricia Bosworth, author of Diane Arbus: a Biography

“Patricia Highsmith is a fascinating and bizarre figure, and a tremendous challenge for the biographer who has to account for her alcoholism, lesbianism, negativism, criminal tendencies, huge talent and much else. Joan Schenkar has accomplished this amazing feat with a really smart book.”--Diane Johnson, critic and novelist, author of Lulu in Marrakech

"I was enthralled by The Talented Miss Highsmith. It''s a brilliant biography, so finely judged in its critical appreciation of  Pat''s work, wonderfully informative about its sources and inspiration, and both enlightening and harrowing in its revelation of her tormented personality and darkly troubled yet (because of her exceptional talent) in some ways triumphant life."--Francis Wyndham,  critic, editor, winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award forThe Other Garden

Praise for Truly Wilde:

"Joan Schenkar has lifted a veil to reveal a sophisticated, overheated lesbian world in Paris in the first decades of the twentieth century. At the centre is Oscar Wilde''s niece Dolly--self-destructive, self-dramatizing, magnetic. This is a great story, beautifully told." --Edmund White

"Truly Wilde is a revelation, the great story of a life and of the creation of modern culture. Read this biography for its high drama, its hijinks, and, at the end, for its poignancy and horror." --Catharine R. Stimpson

"A romp through a unique era featuring countless intriguing lesbians and written in a fabulously gossipy style." --Time Out New York

About the Author

JOAN SCHENKAR is the author of Truly Wilde: The Unsettling Story of Dolly Wilde as well as a collection of plays, Signs of Life: 6 Comedies of Menace. She lives in Paris and Greenwich Village

From The Washington Post

From The Washington Post''s Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by by Jonathan Lethem Here she stands, like one of her own self-incriminating suspects: Patricia Highsmith, beneficiary of one of the great revival campaigns in recent literary history (to rival those of Paula Fox, Dawn Powell, Philip K. Dick), yet still mistaken in plain sight. You hate to quibble with a revival, but what''s with all the short-story collections? And why can''t we look past the Ripley sequence? Highsmith''s greatest work is in the non-Ripley novels, and she''s a great novelist, unqualified by any label or apology. The stories are fascinating, once you''ve come to care for her, and there may even be a cache of gems lurking in all that mass, but she''s too little interested in language to thrive in that compressed form, while her foremost capacity -- the one that distinguishes her as a master -- is for putting a set of characters through a deepening series of nightmares. Her tales are not so much credible as they are undeniable in their grim, winding, reader-implicating destructiveness -- like the catastrophes of human life, her plots leave us incredulous. To reduce her to stories is like wishing Hitchcock had made shorts. To ignore the non-Ripley novels is like wishing Dostoevski had opted for "The Further Adventures of Raskolnikov." Which novels? "The Cry of the Owl," "The Blunderer," "This Sweet Sickness," "The Tremor of Forgery," "Deep Water," "A Dog''s Ransom" -- those might make a core curriculum. (With, yes, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," the book that introduced the character.) Highsmith''s novels with expatriate locales tended to fare better with reviewers during her lifetime, the rap against those with American settings being that, living overseas, she''d lost her ear for American manners and locutions. This objection, silly to begin with, evaporates over time. The preference for Ripley, despite the sequence''s slide into mediocrity, isn''t merely a preference for brand names, but for consolation. Highsmith resembles Georges Simenon, whose vision of human life was dark and senseless enough that it demanded the invention of the detective Maigret, he who sails somberly above the darkness, sorting out various local occurrences. Highsmith''s vision was even more relentless; the only soul she could imagine skirting the morbid guilt of her world was Ripley, who is sweetly soulless. Simenon and Highsmith have another thing in common: Their lives were so punishing, to themselves and their "loved ones" (a term that takes on an awful aspect when one considers the Highsmithian vision of romantic love), that they convert their biographers -- and, subsequently, the readers of their biographies -- into sorrowful judges, juries and executioners. Joan Schenkar, author of "The Talented Miss Highsmith," knew her subject in the latter part of Highsmith''s life and drew more or less the same impression she conveys in her book, of someone forever tormented by child-parental longing and hurt, someone driven into habits of manipulation and concealment in every human exchange, someone terrifyingly alone in any crowd. No impression, however, could have possibly prepared Schenkar for the catalogue of torments her scrupulous and excruciating research uncovered. She is compelled by that research to tell us more than we could possibly wish to know. Much as Highsmith rates full treatment, I can''t help wishing Schenkar had spared herself (and me) and written a personal recollection instead (think of Shirley Hazzard''s short memoir of Graham Greene, "Greene On Capri"). Nevertheless, it is impossible to accuse anyone of completely losing her sense of humor during her own journey to the Dark Continent of Highsmith who is capable of writing the following: "Luckily, their African trip never came off. Jane Bowles had phobias about trains, tunnels, bridges, elevators, and making decisions, while Pat''s phobias included, but were not confined to, noise, space, cleanliness, and food, as well as making decisions. A journey to the Dark Continent by Patricia Highsmith and Jane Bowles in each other''s unmediated company doesn''t bear thinking about." The best thing Schenkar accomplished, for me, was to drive me back to the work. If Highsmith''s antidote to the poison of living was the writing of her novels, we can follow suit and read them. The antidote to literary biography is literature. bookworld@washpost.com
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 1

HOW TO BEGIN: Part 1

"No writer would ever betray his secret life, it would be like standing naked in public."--Patricia Highsmith 9/3/40

AN ORDINARY DAY

On 16 November, 1973, a damp, coldish, breaking day in the tiny French village of Moncourt, France,  Patricia Highsmith, a fifty-two year old American writer living an apparently quiet life beside a branch of the Loing Canal, lit up another Gauloise jaune, tightened her grip on her favorite Parker fountain pen, hunched her shoulders  over her roll-top desk -- her oddly-jointed arms and enormous hands were long enough to reach the back of the  roll while she was still seated –- and jotted down in her writer''s notebook a short list of helpful activites "which small children" might do "around the house."

It''s a casual little list, the kind of list Pat liked to make when she was emptying out the  back pockets of her mind, and it has the tossed-off quality of an afterthought. But as any careful reader of Highsmith knows, the time to pay special attention to her is when she seems to be lounging, negligent, or (God forbid) mildly relaxed. There is a beast crouched in every "unconcerned" corner of her writing mind and, sure enough, it springs out at us in her list''s discomfiting title. "Little Crimes for Little Tots," she called it.  And then for good measure she added a subtitle: "Things around the house which small children Can do..."

Pat had recently filled in another little list –- it was for the comics historian Jerry Bails back in the U.S. –- with some diversionary information about her work on the crime-busting comic book adventures of Black Terror and Sgt. Bill King, so perhaps she was  still counting up the ways in which small children could be slyly associated with crime. In her last writer''s journal, penned from the same perch in semi-suburban France, she had also spared a few thoughts for children. One of them was a simple calculation. She reckoned that "one blow in anger [would] kill, probably, a child from aged two to eight. . ." and that "Those over eight would take two blows to kill." The murderer she imagined completing this deed was none other than herself; the circumstance driving her to it was a simple one:

"One situation – maybe one alone – could drive me to murder: family life, togetherness."

So, difficult as it might be to imagine Pat Highsmith dipping her pen into child''s play, her private writings tell us that she sometimes liked to run her mind over the more outré problems of dealing with the young. And not only because her feelings for them wavered between a clinical interest in their upbringing (she made constant inquiries about the children of friends) and a violent rejection of their actual presence (she couldn''t bear the sounds children made when they were enjoying themselves).

Like her feisty, maternal grandmother Willie Mae Stewart Coates, who used to send suggestions for improving the United States to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and got handwritten answers back from the White House), Pat kept a drawerful of unconventional ideas for social engineering just itching to be implemented. Her notebooks are enlivened by large plans for small people, most of them modelleled on some harsh outcropping of her own rocky past. Each one adds a new terror to the study of child development.

One of her plans for youth –- just a sample -- seems to be a barely-suppressed rehearsal of the wrench in 1927 in her own childhood when she was taken from her grandmother''s care in the family-owned boarding house in Fort Worth, Texas all the way across the United States to her mother''s new marriage in a cramped apartment in the upper reaches of the West Side of Manhattan. Pat''s idea for child-improvement (it migrated from a serious entry in her 1966 notebook to the mind of the mentally unstable protagonist in her 1977 novel, Edith''s Diary) was to send very young children to live in places far across the world  --"Orphanages could be exploited for willing recruits!" she enthused, alight with her own special brand of practicality -- so that they could serve their country as "junior members of the Peace Corps."

Like a tissue-culture excised from the skin of her thoughts, her odd, off-hand little list of 16 November, 1973 (written in her house in a village so small that a visit to the Post Office lumbered her with unwanted attention) turns out to be a useful entrée into the mind, the matter, and the mise-en-scène of the talented Miss Highsmith. Among its other revelations, the list makes recommendations for people (small ones) whose lives parallel her own: people who are fragile enough to be confined to their homes, free enough to be without apparent parental supervision, and angry enough to be preoccupied with murder. 

Here is her list.

"16/11/73 Little Crimes for Little Tots. Things around the house – which small children can do, such as:

1) Tying string across top of stairs so adults will trip.

2) Replacing roller skate on stairs, once mother has removed it.

3) Setting careful fires, so that someone else will get the blame if possible.

4) Rearranging pills in medicine cabinets; sleeping pills into aspirin bottle. Pink laxative pills into antibiotic bottle which is kept in fridge.

5) Rat powder or flea powder into flour jar in kitchen.

6) Saw through supports of attic trap door, so that anyone walking on closed trap will fall through to stairs.

7) In summer: fix magnifying glass to focus on dry leaves, or preferably oily rags somewhere. Fire may be attributed to spontaneous combustion.

8) Investigate anti-mildew products in gardening shed. Colorless poison added to gin bottle."

A small thing but very much her own, this piece of ephemera, like almost everything Pat turned her hand to, has murder on its mind, centers itself around a house and its close environs, mentions  a mother in a cameo role, and is highly practical in a thoroughly subversive way.

Written in the flat, dragging, uninflected style of her middle years, it leaves no particular sense that she meant it as a joke, but she must have…mustn''t she? The real beast in Highsmith''s writing has always been the double-headed dragon of ambiguity. And the dragon often appears with its second head tucked under its foreclaw and its cue-cards –- the ones it should be flashing at us to help us with our responses – - concealed somewhere beneath its scales. Is Pat serious? Or is she something else?

She is serious and she is also something else.

All her life, Pat Highsmith was drawn to list-making. She loved lists and she loved them all the more because nothing could be less representative of her chaotic, raging interior than a nice, organizing little list. Like much of what she wrote, this particular list makes use of the materials at hand: no need, children, to look further than Mother''s''s medecine cabinet or Father''s garden shed for the means to murder your parents. Many children in Highsmith fictions, if they are physically able, murder a family member. In 1975 she would devote an entire collection of short stories, The Animal Lovers Book of Beastly Murder, to pets who dispatch their abusive human "parents" straight to Hell.

Nor did Pat herself usually look further than her immediate environment for props to implement her artistic motives. (And when she did, she got into artistic trouble.) Everything around her was there to be used –- and methodically so –- even in murder. She fed the odd bits of her gardens, her love life, the carpenter ants in her attic, her old manuscripts, her understanding of the street-plan of New York and the transvestite bars of Berlin into the furnace of her imagination – and then let the fires do their work.

Excerpted from The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar.
Copyright © 2009 by Joan Schenkar.
Published in December 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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4.1 out of 54.1 out of 5
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Top reviews from the United States

A.R.N.
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Obnoxious book by a self-satisfied writer who completely ignores the ravages of chronic alcohol abuse.
Reviewed in the United States on January 13, 2016
One of the most obnoxious books I''ve ever read. Why on God''s earth would anyone write not *just* a biography of someone they revile, but a massive biography at that!? The book is filled with snide asides that inject the author and her biases at every turn (on French... See more
One of the most obnoxious books I''ve ever read. Why on God''s earth would anyone write not *just* a biography of someone they revile, but a massive biography at that!? The book is filled with snide asides that inject the author and her biases at every turn (on French waiters mistaking Highsmith for a man and Highsmith thinking it was because of her big feet and hands, JS cruelly wrote, what else could she think). Schenkar also keeps the book unorganized, off a timeline and therefore very unnatural, if you will. The odd organization serves JS''s ugly themes more than it does PH''s life. By avoiding a linear timeline, I feel JS missed a most crucial fact of PH''s life: that the woman at the end was vastly transformed by a life of unaddressed and rampant alcoholism. There''s no surprise that PH was a different person near the end of her life. Instead of focusing on the beautiful, brilliant, funny, randy, likable and charming woman she was (or could be) when she created her best works (Strangers on a Train, The Price of Salt [AKA Carol], The Talented Mr. Ripley), JS gets off on the ravaged PH: the anti-social, xenophobic, Semite-hating, snail-keeping woman, without giving due credit to classic alcohol damage (impulse control, sociability, etc). JS revels in the damage, wallows in her own hate and disgust. It''s an appalling stance for a biographer. It would not be unlike assessing a former athlete after a devastating stroke -- sure, you can give horrifying descriptions of efforts to speak or tie shoes -- but would that be the essence of the athlete? While JS is an articulate woman and the book, such as it is, uses nice words and can at times be well-written, do NOT let this biased hate-fest be your only look at Highsmith or her life.
35 people found this helpful
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rusty
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Informative but too long and repetitive
Reviewed in the United States on December 9, 2019
This book is too long. Whatever we learn about Patricia Highsmith is probably contained in the first one hundred pages. After that the repetition of her affairs and bad behavior becomes a drag. There are things to be learned about where she got her ideas but overall I was... See more
This book is too long. Whatever we learn about Patricia Highsmith is probably contained in the first one hundred pages. After that the repetition of her affairs and bad behavior becomes a drag. There are things to be learned about where she got her ideas but overall I was sick of her long before the book ended. However if you want to know the basics about Highsmith''s life it''s worth looking into.
3 people found this helpful
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Jeffrey T. Kane
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
At least the cover was awesome.
Reviewed in the United States on April 27, 2014
I love the cover photograph of Highsmith, and the title of this book is clever, but otherwise this is a terrible biography. The way the author jumps all over the place in time, sometimes going back and forth between a few decades within two paragraphs is very confusing and... See more
I love the cover photograph of Highsmith, and the title of this book is clever, but otherwise this is a terrible biography. The way the author jumps all over the place in time, sometimes going back and forth between a few decades within two paragraphs is very confusing and makes for an unpleasant reading experience.

The reason I purchased this is because I am a huge fan of Highsmith''s work and have read all of her novels at least twice. Some of her novels, like This Sweet Sickness, I have read over ten times. I have never done that with any other author.

For some reason Joan Schenkar spends almost the entire length of this biography trashing Highsmith''s work and writing style. From reading this you''d get the impression that only maybe one or two of her novels were worth reading.

She also trashes Highsmith as a person by only focusing on the most negative traits of her personality. I''m sure we have all done bad things during our life or acted childish at some points, but I have a hard time imagining that Highsmith spent every moment of her life being drunken and miserable with a scowl on her face. That is just way too cartoonish for a real-life person.

If she was really that unpleasant how could she have had so many friends and admirers over the years? It seems like half the information in here is based on the accounts of bitter ex-lovers, if you wanted that you may as well get it firsthand by reading Marijane Meaker''s memoir about the time she spent with Highsmith.

I am a fast reader, and not easily distracted, I am also an obsessive fan of Patricia Highsmith, it''s normally a delight for me to read anything about her. This book has taken me about two years to finish reading. I''ve had to start it over twice, but I finally forced myself to get through it.

I don''t regret buying it, because there are some great photographs inside, and I love owning anything related to Patricia Highsmith, but this book works best as a decoration.

Beautiful Shadow by Andrew Wilson is a much better biography of Highsmith that came out a few years before this one. He gives an unbiased and clear picture of her life. He is objective without feeling the need to trash her or her work. Ugh, seriously this book is terrible.

If you bother to check my other reviews you can see that I am pretty easy to please when it comes to most things, I give all of Katy Perry''s albums five stars. So for me to feel the need to give something one star is a big deal.
46 people found this helpful
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Johnathon K
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Somewhat Disjointed, But Fascinating Look at Patricia Highsmith
Reviewed in the United States on June 27, 2012
Patricia Highsmith was not a likable character, to be blunt. Racist, demanding, dishonest, hypocritical, an elitist--the list goes on. While she wrote some truly excellent books, her personal life was somewhat of a train wreck. But like a train wreck, there is a high... See more
Patricia Highsmith was not a likable character, to be blunt. Racist, demanding, dishonest, hypocritical, an elitist--the list goes on. While she wrote some truly excellent books, her personal life was somewhat of a train wreck. But like a train wreck, there is a high degree of fascination about the woman. It is hard to tear away from the story of her life.

The author has done an admirable job of unearthing and putting to paper a huge amount of facts on Highsmith''s life. Some of the minutia are as interesting as the major events which shaped Highsmith and helped her become the woman she was. Taken as a whole, it is quite easy, when reading this biography, to somehow secretly take pleasure in damning the woman. She is quite easy to dislike.

The author takes an odd and somewhat disconcerting approach to the organization of her biography. Personally, I like a more lineal approach. The author, though, chose to organize this book in a more haphazard fashion, jumping back and forth and going off on tangents. There is a purported organization, if you can take the titles of the chapters as a guide, but in reality, the contents of the chapters did not completely follow form. The text tended to be a mishmash of observations, facts, opinions, and events taken out of chronological order. This made the book harder to follow that it needed to be.

On the other hand, sometimes the tangents took a life of their own. The section on comic books was fascinating, and even the small interjections, such as someone trying to set Patricia up with Stan Lee, left me wanting more. And while often I became stuck in a morass of stilted text and wanted to start skimming, something would catch my attention and I would slow down and delve more deeply into that section.

The wordsmithing and organization of this biography left me wanting. However, the pure mass of interesting information about this unlikable, yet fascinating person makes the effort of going through the book worthwhile.
5 people found this helpful
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Betsy Pascucci
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
But.....Did Schenkar Like This Subject At All?
Reviewed in the United States on February 15, 2013
I like biographies, so I read a lot of them and usually I can tell whether the biographer like the subject or not within the first hundred pages. Not this book. It''s a gazillion pages long and I still don''t know what Schenkar actually feels about Patricia Highsmith. I... See more
I like biographies, so I read a lot of them and usually I can tell whether the biographer like the subject or not within the first hundred pages. Not this book. It''s a gazillion pages long and I still don''t know what Schenkar actually feels about Patricia Highsmith. I was interested in reading about this writer because she was amazingly talented and prolific. By the time Highsmith was thirty years old, Alfred Hitchcock had bought her novel - Strangers on a Train - and was turning it into a wonderful movie. By the time she was thrity! Shenkar doesn''t seem very impressed by this. Instead she tells us in gruelling detail about Highsmith''s pre-occupation with paying taxes, with buying and selling houses and apartments here and in Europe. Not a stone of minutia is left unturned - but I don''t feel I got to know Highsmith at all. I wonder if the author feels this way. I wonder why she felt she had to leave out the drama in Highsmith''s early life that must have shaped her writing. Patricia Highsmith had a contentious relationship with her mother but this fact is more or less ignored in favor of the snails. Yes, lots of talk about snails in this book. Despite my disappointment in this book, I am now reading The Talented Mr. Ripley. I think I will learn a lot more about Highsmith through Tom Ripley.
4 people found this helpful
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Michael S. Balliro
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Loved this book
Reviewed in the United States on March 7, 2019
I loved reading this book. I will not be keeping it in my library though. The seller misrepresented the quality of the used book and when it arrived the cover was barely hanging on and the book showed other serious signs of abuse. The cover fell off before I could finish... See more
I loved reading this book. I will not be keeping it in my library though. The seller misrepresented the quality of the used book and when it arrived the cover was barely hanging on and the book showed other serious signs of abuse. The cover fell off before I could finish the book. I should have returned the book to teach the seller a lesson, but instead I enjoyed the read then cheerlessly recycled the book when I was done. Buyer beware!
2 people found this helpful
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Laura K.
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A biography as compelling and unsettling as its subject.
Reviewed in the United States on November 30, 2011
I always counted Hitchcock''s film of Patricia Highsmith''s story Criss Cross, "Strangers on a Train," one of my favorites. So, several years ago, I read all of her Ripley novels with increasing fascination and unease. I would find myself, as I am sure most of her readers... See more
I always counted Hitchcock''s film of Patricia Highsmith''s story Criss Cross, "Strangers on a Train," one of my favorites. So, several years ago, I read all of her Ripley novels with increasing fascination and unease. I would find myself, as I am sure most of her readers do, tensely rooting for her killer, Tom Ripley, to get away with his latest crime. Then I''d put down the book, and ask myself, "What am I doing, hoping the murderer gets away with it? How did she make me do that?" It''s the mastery of her writing. She''s uncanny. Her characters are disturbing, but compelling. And they suck you in.
I found this biography sucked me in, too, in spite of its disjointed organization. I sometimes found the way it jumps in time disorientating, but that''s not unlike the way Patricia Highsmith''s novels make you feel, too. It gave me a better sense of her place in the literary world. And she sounds as awful and as compelling as her famous creation, Tom Ripley.
4 people found this helpful
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propertius
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
How Clever of You, Joan
Reviewed in the United States on May 12, 2013
Joan Scheknar has not written a traditional biography with the usual format of "She was ... until she died." but more a biography of the literary creative process. As such, the format and style of the book takes some getting used to and the reader must realize that while... See more
Joan Scheknar has not written a traditional biography with the usual format of "She was ... until she died." but more a biography of the literary creative process. As such, the format and style of the book takes some getting used to and the reader must realize that while he will get much biographical information, this work''s main concern is an explanation of the influences and experiences that produced the writer as opposed to the woman.

This book should read as a compliment to more traditional biographies such as Andrew Wilson''s "Beautiful Shadow" in order for those who wish to gain a fuller understanding of Patricia Highsmith the artist, as opposed to the person. Like the subject herself, this book is an acquired taste but well worth the effort.
12 people found this helpful
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Top reviews from other countries

D.J. Howard
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Confused and tiring...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 19, 2017
This has a very confused writing style and completely random structure. It''s exhausting to read. Focuses almost entirely on her social life and lesbianism, more like a gossip magazine than a biography. "Beautiful Shadow" is a much better biography of Patricia...See more
This has a very confused writing style and completely random structure. It''s exhausting to read. Focuses almost entirely on her social life and lesbianism, more like a gossip magazine than a biography. "Beautiful Shadow" is a much better biography of Patricia Highsmith, particularly if you''re interested in Highsmith the writer.
5 people found this helpful
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twotontessie
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Five Stars
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 3, 2016
Good enjoying this so far
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Tod Hackett
3.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Self Indulgent
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 6, 2012
A (fairly) recent Times poll had Highsmith down as the greatest crime writer, a view with which I fully concur. Unfortunately this biography does not do her justice, being for the most part a slovenly, self-indulgent appraisal (if I can dignify it with that term) of her...See more
A (fairly) recent Times poll had Highsmith down as the greatest crime writer, a view with which I fully concur. Unfortunately this biography does not do her justice, being for the most part a slovenly, self-indulgent appraisal (if I can dignify it with that term) of her genius. Appraisal? It''s mostly about who she slept with, and seemingly every alternate chapter bears the title ''Les Girls''. Now I love gossip, but only insofar as it sheds light on the work. Ms Schenkar''s effort casts a moth-eaten pall of drivelling pseudo-psychologese over everything. Look at this passage: " No one who knew Patricia Highsmith in the last, claustral years of her life in Switzerland can believe how social - even how socially confident - she could seem to be in the 1940s Manhattan. The Embittered Old Oyster, shut up in a shell of her own devising in suburban Switzerland in the last decade of the twentieth century, was once a Pearl of a Girl in wartime Manhattan: avid for experience, hungry for connections, and going to every single place in New York City where she could find both." Anyone who writes as badly as that deserves to be called out as an Incompetent Purblind Old Hack. ( Sorry about the capitalizing but Ms Schenkar''s style is contagious. Like genital herpes.) Although I agree almost completely with the previous reviewer, I actually quite like a non-chronological approach, and have a soft spot for biographers (such as Roger Lewis in his mad, magnificent and fatally flawed Life of Peter Sellers) who take this path. Joan Schenkar is good on Highsmith''s past, on her writing processes and particularly on her toxic relationship with her mother Mary, but whilst I abhor biographers who spend acres of print on discussing the work at the expense of the life, there really isn''t enough about the former. I felt the previous biographer, Andrew Wilson, was more thorough about Highsmith''s writing. I would suggest to those who love Highsmith''s work to buy the excellent Beautiful Shadow first. This volume I would have strictly as back-up.
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R JS Jansen
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliantly executed style of an autobiography
Reviewed in Canada on February 9, 2016
This book reads like a film in fast forward, rewind, pause and play. The style is imaginative and very interestingly handled. The author is to be applauded for keeping the breadth of Patricia Highsmiths life moving along as if you were there along as she was living it. A...See more
This book reads like a film in fast forward, rewind, pause and play. The style is imaginative and very interestingly handled. The author is to be applauded for keeping the breadth of Patricia Highsmiths life moving along as if you were there along as she was living it. A very absorbing account of the authors life that could be a template for how to write a dynamic autobiography rather than merely going from point A to B without referencing all the other events and times that affect each other over a lifetime.
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Elisabeth
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The Talented Miss Highsmith, and the talented Joan Shenkar
Reviewed in Spain on April 21, 2016
It''s a rigorous biography about the complex thriller queen, Miss Patricia Highsmith. Anything in her life was easy or banal, and that made a woman strong and, at the same time, weak enough to create a personality full complexities. I highly recommend it to who wants to swim...See more
It''s a rigorous biography about the complex thriller queen, Miss Patricia Highsmith. Anything in her life was easy or banal, and that made a woman strong and, at the same time, weak enough to create a personality full complexities. I highly recommend it to who wants to swim deeply into Miss Highsmith way of thinking.
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